MYTHIC HEIGHTS


By John M. Floyd



"Are you friends?" Detective O'Neal asked. "You and Ms. Smith?"

Patty Horner drew a long, shaky breath. They were seated in her living room, next door to the Smiths' home.

"Just neighbors," she said. "How is she?"

"Still unconscious, I'm afraid. But stable."

Ms. Horner nodded. Her house was a mess — clothes strewn everywhere, magazines piled on the couch. In one corner her little boy sat on a stack of old books, munching on what looked like a piece of pie.

"All we really know at this point," O'Neal said, "is that the paramedics found them both lying on the rocks at the bottom of the hill behind the house, after you called nine-one-one. And that Mr. Smith expired on the way to the hospital."

"Such a tragedy," she said, in a low voice. "Nothing like that's ever happened in Mythic Heights."

"Could you tell me what you saw, Ms. Horner?"

She blew out a sigh. "Well, I saw them go up there, the two of them. From my back window."

"Any idea why they'd do that?"

"They were probably going to their well. They own some property on the far side of the ridge."

O'Neal jotted a note in his pad. Her son caught his eye and grinned at him, then went back to eating.

"And why would they need well water?" O'Neal asked.

"Little Bo said the Smiths had a broken pipe, at the house. Their water was turned off at the time of the...incident."

"You mean the accident?"

"Yes. The accident."

"Who's Little Bo?" he said.

"Another neighbor — she tends our sheep. She and Blue."

"Sheep?"

"She's not very good at it."

"And Blue?"

"He's a little boy from down the street. A hard worker, usually."

"Usually?"

"He has trouble staying awake, on the job. Which means —"

"The sheep get in the meadow?" O'Neal asked.

"How'd you know that?"

"I'm a detective," he said. He made another note. From the corner of his eye he saw her little son stick his thumb in his pie.

"Getting back to the Smiths," O'Neal said, "what exactly did you see?"

"Well, I saw him fall, on the way back."

"The husband? John?"

"We call him Jack."

"And was he walking ahead of his wife, or behind?"

"Ahead."

O'Neal studied her a moment.

"Do you think his wife pushed him, Ms. Horner?"

She shifted in her seat. "I'm not sure."

"But she might have?"

"I suppose it's possible."

A silence passed. The kid in the corner was now examining what appeared to be a plum. Through the window O'Neal saw a little girl in a frilly dress, sitting on a tuffet. She was eating something too, but it wasn't pie or plums. It looked like lumpy milk.

"You think anyone else might have seen them?" he asked.

"The Smiths? I doubt it. Most folks around here work in the city during the day."

"How about Little Bo, or Blue?"

"Bo was off somewhere looking for the livestock — they're always getting lost. Blue was probably asleep."

O'Neal nodded. "By the way," he said, "why's your subdivision called Mythic Heights?"

"Beats me. The tall hills, I guess."

He went back to his notes. "What happened then, when Mr. Smith fell?"

"Well, Jill came tumbling after."

"She what?"

"You know — after he did."

O'Neal pursed his lips and thought that over. Somehow he wasn't surprised, when he looked again at the little girl, to see that a spider had sat down beside her.

"So one of two things happened," he said. "Either they both fell...or she pushed him, and then slipped. Right?"

"I guess."

He flipped a page, made another entry.

"Ms. Horner — are you aware of any problems they might've had, the Smiths?"

"What do you mean?"

"Could there have been any reason Jill Smith might've, well, wanted her husband dead?"

"Not that I know of." She hesitated. "Except the snoring."

"The what?"

"Jack snored, when he slept."

"And how do you know this?"

"We live right next door," she said.

"You could hear him snoring at night?"

"Are you kidding? It kept the sheep awake."

"Even Blue?"

"No, I expect Blue stayed asleep."

"And did Ms. Smith ever indicate that her husband's snoring upset her?"

"She said it ran her crazy."

They both fell silent. Outside the window, the spider had the tuffet all to himself now. O'Neal tried to ignore it.

"Well, I guess that's everything." He rose to his feet and handed her a card. "Call me if you think of anyone else who might have information about the" — he cleared his throat — "incident."

"I already have, actually. Thought of someone, I mean. But it wouldn't help."

He blinked. "You're saying there might be another witness?"

"Not from our neighborhood. From up on the ridge."

"Can you give me a name?"

"No."

"Address?" Probably a shoe, he thought. Or a gingerbread house. This was getting really bizarre.

He found himself wondering about job-related stress.

"No address either," she answered. "It's just an old shack."

"Well, I think I'll visit the occupant, if he's around."

"They're always around."

"They?"

"There are three of them."

"I see." And then he thought of something. "Why'd you say it wouldn't help to talk to them?"

"Well, for one thing, they're blind."

He frowned. "Three blind people?"

"Not people."

"Excuse me?"

"Mice," she said.

"Mice?"

"You should see how they run."

O'Neal was quiet a moment, watching her. Her gaze never wavered. With an effort he said, "One more thing, Ms. Horner...why would the Smiths own a well way over on the other side of the hill?"

"Irrigation, I suppose."

"For what? Their crops?"

"Goodness no," she said. "Jack was too lazy to farm."

"Irrigation for what, then?"

"His beanstalk."

O'Neal made no reply. After a long pause he closed his notepad, thanked her, and left. On the way back to the station, even though he was now off duty, he drove right past his usual watering-hole. When he got to the office he took his fifth of bourbon from his desk drawer and poured it down the sink, and at home he did the same with the two six-packs of beer in the fridge.

His wife walked in just as he was finishing up. "Bad day?" she asked.

"Mythical," he said.


JOHN M. FLOYD's short stories and features have appeared in more than 200 different publications, including The Strand Magazine, Woman's World, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he won a 2007 Derringer Award and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. John is also the author of three books: Rainbow's End (2006), Midnight (2008), and Clockwork (2010).


Copyright 2012 John M. Floyd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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